As children's brains mature, they might experience a shift in a perspective called adolescent egocentrism. During this time, you may notice them centering themselves at the expense of others. While this can be a challenging phase to deal with as a parent, it can be common for adolescents. Learning more about adolescent egocentrism and how to manage it may benefit you as you support your teen.
Parenting Challenges May Feel Isolating
What Is Adolescent Egocentrism?
Egocentrism refers to centering oneself and one's needs, often at the expense of others. Some adolescents may go through a period where they exhibit egocentric tendencies, called adolescent egocentrism.
Egotistical Vs. Egocentric
The term adolescent egocentrism was developed by the child psychologist Dr. David Elkind. Dr. Elkind studied adolescents ranging from 11-18 years old, focusing on how they perceived the world compared to their adult counterparts.
Dr. Elkind discovered that teenagers often could not differentiate between their perceptions and the perceptions of others. Teenagers consistently believed their view was the only possible, and all other ideas were false or nonexistent.
Parenting And Egocentrism In Teens
Adolescent egocentrism can be a difficult stage for parents. This developmental stage may be characterized by arguing, demanding, entitled behavior, or frequent emotional outbursts. Some parents may feel their children have developed a new personality, citing a rise in aggression, argumentativeness, or stubbornness.
If your child's personality or behaviors change, you may feel overwhelmed, exhausted, or lonely. If you feel this way, you are not alone. Parents can struggle in various ways during adolescence, and egocentrism can be confusing for someone who hasn't seen it before.
Is Egocentrism Permanent?
It might seem that your child's egocentrism won’t end. However, this developmental stage can be beneficial to your child and may not last forever. Although some adults continue to behave in egocentric ways, many teens could grow up to appreciate what they learned in their younger years.
Does Egocentrism Cause Risky Behavior?
You might feel your child is engaging in risky or extreme behaviors as they age. Adolescence egocentrism can accompany a decrease in accuracy in assessing risk and danger. For this reason, adolescents may behave as though they are invincible. They might partake in risky behaviors such as driving without a seatbelt, going out late with friends, or attending risky parties.
Talking to your teen about safety, responsibility, and self-care could benefit them during this time. Although not all teens experience these challenges, they may know a peer who does. Ensuring your teen is educated about safety could keep them safe.
Effects Of Adolescent Egocentrism
Adolescent egocentrism has also been titled "the imaginary audience" or "the personal fable." These names may be given to illustrate that teenagers during this stage of development might believe themselves to be the focus of everyone's attention. Teens may feel this way even if they struggle with self-esteem. They could believe they are being spoken about in every room or that a minor mistake could end their social life.
For this reason, during adolescence, some individuals might struggle to open up socially, as they may believe their peers are closely monitoring and judging their every move. Others might act out in loud, aggressive, and explosive displays, attempting to maintain control or reject vulnerability.
The "Imaginary Audience"
The so-called "imaginary audience" may feel like the whole world to a teen but might only be comprised of their own peers from school. Teens might strive to impress one another, sometimes through "daring" feats or falsehoods designed to make them appear trendy, cool, or unique. The imaginary audience is often somewhat responsible for teenagers' personality traits and desires.
The "Personal Fable"
The "personal fable" describes the unrealistic way teenagers may view themselves and the world around them. Teenagers might feel the world is small or confined to their city and school. They may fail to understand success and failure on a more significant scale.
A minor setback may feel like "the end of the world" to a teen. Although a parent might know this is untrue, they can support their teen by meeting them where they're at and validating their emotional response. Telling teenagers that they're being unrealistic, silly, or confusing could make them feel more distressed.
How Can Parents Manage Adolescent Egocentrism In A Positive Way?
As a parent, you might forget your teenage years or how you may have practiced or viewed egocentrism. Handling your child's behaviors might be best approached through an empathetic and understanding lens, even if it feels challenging. Try the following techniques for managing your child's behavior.
Connect With Your Kids
Connecting with your children might feel challenging, but take any opportunity to find ways to bond. If your child loves modern dance, consider taking them to a performance. If your teen is amazed by the deep ocean, visit a local museum or aquarium together. Finding any way to connect with your children can help you feel empathetic and loving toward them.
Think Of Your Own Childhood
You might not have had similar stressors as a teen that your children have now, but you could relate to some aspects. For example, perhaps there was a particular fashion fad at your school that everyone participated in to look "cool." That can be an example of the "imaginary audience" trope. Remembering your journey may help you develop empathy toward your children.
Consider That This May Be Temporary
This stage of development may seem to stretch on. However, adolescence will someday pass, like other developmental periods. Your child may emerge healthier if the stage is handled with grace, understanding, and kindness.
Introduce New Ideas
Children may broaden their horizons when exposed to unique ideas and worldviews, so continue introducing them to new types of music, cultural ideas, and experiences. Although these steps might not immediately eradicate the presence of egocentrism, they can help teenagers realize that they are not alone in the world and that other cultures exist.
If you can, traveling or volunteering with your teen might help them make this realization. For example, you could try a charity outing in a larger city to bring sandwiches to those experiencing homelessness or volunteer in a soup kitchen. Or you could visit a museum that discusses a tragic world event and show your teen how historic teens handled these experiences.
If you visit another country, your teen could see that adolescents in different cultures may value different foods, cultural ideas, and languages. They might learn that their community is not the only one in the world.
Studies show that children require the unconditional love and support of their parents. Although you might not agree with everything your teenager says or does, you may choose to demonstrate that your love and acceptance are not conditional.
Get Support From Other Adults
Connecting with your parents and discovering how they helped or hindered your development during this stage could also be helpful. Digging into your own experiences may help you learn more about your child and what they might be going through from a parent's perspective. It could also lend insight into how you were treated as a teenager and how that treatment during adolescence has shaped you into adulthood.
You may also find talking to friends going through the same thing helpful. Parental connections may help you feel less alone in your feelings and develop techniques by discussing ideas with another parent.
You Don't Have To Face Parenting Alone
Parenting can feel rewarding, but it may also prove challenging. Some parents worry they are not acting healthily, and others find it difficult to manage emotions that form because of their child's behavior. No matter the case, individual, group, or family therapy may help you learn ways to manage these challenges.
Working hard to be a healthy parent to your child can make it challenging to fit in time for yourself. Online therapy can make attending appointments more accessible; Instead of traveling to an office, you can attend your appointments anywhere you have a solid internet connection.
Online therapy may also make it easier for you and your child to connect on a meaningful level. A study has shown that online therapy can feel more personal than traditional therapy. 96% of people in the study reported feeling a personal connection with their online therapists as opposed to 91% who saw face-to-face therapists. The first group was also more invested in completing homework the therapists assigned them, leading them to make real-life changes.
If you or your teen is interested in trying online counseling, platforms like BetterHelp are available for those over 18, and TeenCounseling is available for those under 18. Overall, online platforms offer an accessible and fast way to connect with a licensed professional.
Commonly Asked Questions
Below are a few commonly asked questions about adolescence.
What Is An Example Of Adolescent Egocentrism?
A teen who feels they will lose all their friends and be judged at school due to a small pimple on their face may be experiencing the "imaginary audience" trope of adolescent egocentrism.
What Is The Imaginary Audience Theory?
The imaginary audience theory, as part of Dr. Elkind's egocentrism work, refers to an adolescent with the belief that people are watching and thinking about them in positive and negative ways at all times. These beliefs may be rooted in reality, but many times are not.
On the positive end of the spectrum, a teen might believe their outfits, makeup, and appearance are setting trends at their school and that others praise their behavior. On the opposing end, a teen with self-consciousness issues may believe their peers are laughing at them at lunchtime or making plans to exclude them when they see people talking in a group in the hall. In some cases, extremely heightened self-consciousness may be caused by social anxiety or bullying.
Elkin believed the imaginary audience beliefs might gradually disappear over time once a teen reaches late adolescence. In late adolescence, perceptions and behaviors formed during childhood development may be replaced with more abstract thinking and an ability to rationalize situations and solve problems. Adults often have more exposure to realistic scenarios and learn more about the world as they age.
What Is An Example Of Egocentrism In A Child?
Egocentrism in children may appear differently than in adolescents because children may think others are experiencing the world through the same lens. For example, they could think their family's patterns, behaviors, and jokes are the same types that other kids have in their families.
Another example includes the popular childhood game hide-and-seek. Kids who play may think they are hidden while their limbs or clothing stick out of a corner in plain sight. Because the hider can't see themselves and thinks they are hidden, they may believe that the seeker can't see them either.
Is Egocentrism The Same As Narcissism?
Egocentrism can include arrogance, self-centeredness, and a lack of empathy. Egocentrism is not necessarily narcissism. While someone experiencing egocentrism may struggle to think outside themselves, narcissists may look outside of themselves and disregard what they see or believe that others are below them.